The Art of Oppression (and surveillance, as seen in the video above)
That the hundreds (at last count 900+) of G20 protesters (and random civilians) held in pens at a detention centre in Toronto also happen to be extras in a former movie studio should come as no surprise to those who took part in this summer’s biggest blockbuster hit. This production note is but one piece of a larger spectacle of fascism recently carried out in the streets of Toronto.
While tens of thousands of us peacefully marched and did so as representatives of every strata of diverse Canadian society, we witnessed the most cynical, unprovoked and violent police and state actions rarely—if ever—seen at such scale in this country. Walking down one of the main Toronto arteries yesterday as the march got under way, I was horrified to see an elderly man beaten by six riot police. Several friends—mostly organizers of civil society groups and independent mediamakers—have been arrested and many have been beaten and have had their personal belongings searched, including cell phones (still others had all their pictures and video deleted or destroyed). In the detention centre, reports are emerging of sexual harassment and the segregation of queer activists and countless abuses of the Geneva Convention.
Standing on College street watching a procession of dozens of dark-tinted vans go by full with riot police, we watched as a man walked toward us calmly and was violently seized and dragged away by ten riot police, a scene reminiscent of so many Hollywood horror films.
Waiting yesterday for our buses to leave for Montreal—far outside the downtown melee—we were photographed by undercover police and police accomplices (see photo below and video in this post). Indy media centres where our friends have been tirelessly covering the protests have been raided, other spaces where activists merely found shelter were violently raided too, between 2AM and 4AM. We have dozens of friends—none of who participated in any form of violence—who are incarcerated or missing.
Yet these instances of brutal state oppression, a kind of fascism captured with hundreds of cameras, have been grossly elided by reductive images of smashed Starbucks windows, a man carrying a hammer, a swiftly moving group of black-clad activists and a burning police car on endless loop. It is a carefully orchestrated (mis)representation of dissent accompanied by lazy, complicit or ignorant journalist’s narration that repeats the key words “anarchy,” “mob,” and “senseless violence.”
This spectacle of civil-society-gone-wrong is a fine-tuned production that credits the city of Toronto, the provincial and federal governments, the police and corporate and national media who have eagerly worked together to serve up the Canadian public with a narrative that is so far from reality it is indeed a fine work of fiction.
The lasting picture, the dominant and enduring index of what was overwhelmingly a peaceful demonstration against the illegitimate, unaccountable and non-transparent elite G20 group, is that of marauders, a city in chaos and dissent as articulated in acts of mindless violence. And this mainstream hit costs a bundle.
Discrediting Dissent with tax dollars
The 1.5 billion dollar summer blockbuster has been paid for by taxpayers and has the best channels of distribution – ensuring no Canadian set of eyeballs or ears is left unaffected by the dramatic tale of wanton destruction, devoid as it is of political will.
It is no surprise then, to hear that the police cars that were set afire were left on purpose by the police themselves, to eke out some real action from protesters. After all, every dramatic narrative needs a dramatic image to provide a theatrical arc in the storyline. The burning police cars are indeed burned into the Canadian psyche – a powerful and enduring signifier of lawlessness and terror.
Yesterday, we happened upon a gentleman sitting in a bar feverishly finessing some stills from the G20 Blockbuster. He told us he was a photographer for the right-wing and pro-business (and pro-G20) Canadian newspaper the National Post. As I looked over his shoulder and complimented him on his skillful rendering of the burning police car, I asked if he intended to report on the other 99% of the day’s demonstrations – the ones that included grandmothers, lawyers, doctors, organized labour, women’s rights groups, Human Rights advocates, First Nations’ groups, artists, teachers, and more. “Maybe,” he replied, “but this is a powerful image.”
And so every blockbuster needs a good promotional poster, and the state, the police apparatus and the mainstream media has found theirs, or some would say, manufactured their own. The burning police car is a soon-to-be iconic image for one of the largest and most diverse civil society manifestations in the history of Toronto.
The vilification and de-legitimizing of activists in this country has reached a crescendo at the G20 protests and the state has scored big in its production of power and oppression. With an army of actors (some 20,000 well-paid police and even more secret agents), tens of thousands of extras in the role of peaceful demonstrators, a starring cast of black-clad “anarchists,” along with explosions, fires, helicopters, mountain bikes, rubber bullets, tear gas and other real props, the fascist production, “G20 Protest Turns Ugly,” has been a spectacle of unparallelled artistry, technology and careful orchestration.
But for those looking for the non-fiction version of this blockbuster, you need to turn off the despicable CBC coverage [note: it did get better since posting this] and other mainstream media and look for the under-funded indy versions of this tale – the ones that do not enjoy the massive distribution the Hollywood-style production enjoys, but serve up something much more real, much more diverse, and much more interested in revealing the machinations of oppression.